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How COVID has Impacted on Participation & How we Should Adapt

How COVID has Impacted on Participation & How we Should Adapt

Like any novel, 2020 sure has had its fair share of plot twists and despite our best strategic plans, the reality is the industry as a whole has had to pivot continuously throughout the year.


Sport Australia, via their AusPlay research program has given us insight to how this story has unravelled and impacted the industry throughout the year; and how participants behaviours have changed. 


As COVID unravelled, adults saw an increase in the intention to look after their health and fitness, resulting in 1 in 3 people increasing the amount they exercise. However, when this translated into what exercise they could do under lockdown, even our most loyal participants had to find new ways to exercise. Whether it was their favourite sport, or heaven forbid their favourite toilet paper brand, consumers (/participants) through necessity became more willing to accept different brands & sports to what they would normally prefer. 


This resulted in some sports being wiped out completely between April and June including futsal, indoor netball and rock-climbing, whilst solo & at home sports thrived with 4 out of 5 people increasing activity at home – from gyms being set up in garages, lounge rooms becoming yoga studios and more pathways being used for running tracks.


Whilst 61% of participants were looking forward to getting back to sport, only 71% of people have since returned to their main sport of choice at the time the research was released. 1 in 3 people have concerns around returning to their sport due to the the risk that their sport will spread COVID, whilst 26% of people are concerned around their fitness and ability to keep up with the required fitness levels on return to sport. This provides a great opportunity for the sports industry to rethink about how you engage with your different types of participants – whether you develop digital at home programs for your less fit team members with the view to return them to your core program rather them lose them completely.


But it is not just sports being available that will bring participants back, the second highest reason people like to exercise is for fun& enjoyment (45% of people), with the 3rd highest driver of participation (which covers 34% of people) is for social interaction. It goes without saying the main reason is physical health and fitness – increasing a further 5% through COVID to a massive 84%. So, what differentiates your sport or fitness group and how can you further leverage these key drivers to increase participation?


When it comes to the differences between sport and fitness,4x the amount of people participate in sport for social reasons vs fitness and2.5x more people participate in sport (vs fitness) for fun and enjoyment –highlighting the opportunity for sports to adapt programs to be even more fun and engaging vs fitness which is known as a way to increase you guessed it –your fitness levels.


I am sure a lot of you can talk from experience, but willingness to adapt new technology is something that many of us have been more receptive to this year. Many people’s expectations for technology to firstly work seamlessly, but also to delight them and be integrated with their sporting program is the new normal. From live streamed yoga and pilates classes to Kayla Itsines at home workouts, there is no doubt the industry is going through a digital revolution. eSports have adapted to this and led the industry in gamification of sports in the digital world, with some best practices to consider on how to drive that competitive nature – remotely.


When it comes to adapting programs to be fun, you can see this filtering through at a grass roots level in the likes of CentennialParkland Sports’ netball program who with a DJ playing music, and food truck onsite to create an immersive fun experience, for those less loyal participants who might be on the fence on whether to enrol in a team. When sport fringes on the edge of a Thursday night out at your favourite local casual dining venue, and a game of sport, how can you go wrong?


Whatever your experience through 2020, there has never been a more important time to think differently and adapt to customer expectations to stay relevant.